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  Defendor Hero At Large
Year: 2009
Director: Peter Stebbings
Stars: Woody Harrelson, Elias Koteas, Michael Kelly, Sandra Oh, Kat Dennings, Clark Johnson, Lisa Ray, Alan C. Peterson, Kristin Booth, Charlotte Sullivan, Tony Nappo, Ron White, David Henry, Bryan Renfro, Max Dreesen, Matt Gordon, James Preston Rogers
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Arthur Poppington (Woody Harrelson) has an alter ego. By day he is a humble roadworker, but by night he allows his heroism full flight as he dons a black costume to become Defendor, a superhero who may not have any powers, but makes up for that in his targetting of evil on the streets of the city. Arthur does not have a high I.Q., but he does know the difference between right and wrong, and all those years of reading comic books have given him an idea of what to do about the sickness in society...

But maybe not one of the most effective ideas, as actor Peter Stebbings' directorial debut was less about how great it was to be a superhero, and more about responsibility in your community, and how the most naive members of it are the ones who truly believe they can engender a positive change. Not that Defendor was a deeply cynical movie, as if anything it celebrated those who thought they could make a difference, which was all the stranger for putting those attitudes in the mind of a man who was mentally challenged rather than impossibly brave through his keen intellect and reason.

Ostensibly this was a comedy, but don't go expecting a laugh riot as it turned out if it was meant to be funny, it was very mild humour indeed. The film beat Kick-Ass to the screens, but did not appear to be cashing in on the craze for superheroics in the movies, as for much of this it wasn't especially caught up in the mechanics of the costumed vigilante, whether they had powers or not - and Arthur assuredly did not. More it was ruminating on whether using force against criminals was ever justified, as he sees his actions as such because he is protecting those disadvantaged by the menaces of the evildoers.

For about half of the time this takes the form of flashbacks as Arthur is assessed by a psychiatrist (Sandra Oh) who tries to get to the heart of his limited psyche which understands the best way to improve the city is to take matters into his own hands. In those flashbacks we see Arthur in his costume, which includes such accoutrements as a camera mounted on the helmet and a trench club from World War I for bashing the baddies with, and he makes a nuisance of himself investigating the fictional Captain Industry, his never-seen arch enemy who according to him killed his mother (she actually left him as a child for being unfit to take care of him).

Defendor doesn't get a sidekick exactly, but he does find a friend in teenage prostitute and crackhead Kat (Kat Dennings) who offers him information for money, and leads him up the garden path when she convinces him a local gangster (Alan C. Peterson) is the villain he's searching for. Arthur then starts to spy on him and his underlings, including corrupt cop Elias Koteas, who do not take kindly to this "fly", leaving him a marked man as he is arrested, not for setting wasps on gangsters but for putting Kat's father in a garbage can when she admits to him she was abused by the man. In somewhat hackneyed fashion, the film winds up with Arthur inspiring the cityfolk, illustrating that no matter how far Stebbings tried to distance his work from the traditional elements of the superhero movie, you still had to reckon with the conventions. Oddly muted overall, this wouldn't set the pulse racing, but provided food for thought. Music by John Rowley.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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